Canada’s Influence Is More About Right Than Might

Canada's influence is more about right than might

Vancouver Sun
June 15, 2010

Is bigger better for Canada? The editor and publisher of Global Brief, a small magazine on international affairs, argues in a provocative essay that to become a “serious force to be reckoned with” in the world, Canada needs more people.

Irvin Studin, an assistant professor at the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto, recommends ramping up immigration so that our current population of about 34 million rises to 100 million by 2080.

That would require an increase in immigration from the current level of 260,000 a year by 20 to 30 per cent, he estimates. Statistics Canada projects Canada's population to climb to about 64 million by 2061 with existing growth rates.

In a time-worn argument, Studin says that filling in some of Canada's wide open spaces would serve a domestic agenda by making Canada easier to govern and create a large enough population pool to turn out more world leading scientists, artists and business leaders.

Most significantly, he says, it would provide the national wealth and tax base to finance international interventions, both military and peaceful. A proper world power.

He says even if we don't seek a more active role, Canada will become unavoidably engaged in conflicts that will result in attacks on our soil and we need to prepare by changing the nature of who we are.

Studin argues we should not be content with “smallness” and what he calls our limited ambition to be a player on the world stage.

Studin's prescriptions are worth considering primarily because of the questions they raise about who we are as Canadians and what kind of a country we want.

They should be just as quickly dismissed for failing to recognize the value of what we have and who we are.

Canada's sparsely populated territories are not vacant lands needing, as Captain George Vancouver wrote in his diary, “only to be enriched by man to render it the most lovely country that could be imagined.''

Nor do Canadians, for the most part, feel the need to be citizens of a superpower to achieve bragging rights in the world.

We tend to view small not in the pejorative sense, but in the sense of exclusivity. Canada is a nation where citizenship is much to be desired, consistently ranking as among the best places to live.

We are one of the few countries in the world where we still have some control over what our future looks like, especially in terms of what number is the right number of people to populate our cities and towns.

We are not living in the 19th century, when we were looking for farmers to tame the wilderness. Most new immigration will settle in the future, as it does now, in our cities. How big do we want them to be?

What we see when we look south of the border, where the population is 10 times ours, is that size does not in itself foster a marketplace of ideas or innovation.

As we see in large companies as well as nations, size matters in establishing economies of scale, but bulk can also stifle creative thinking and agility.

Canadians need to be concerned about our ability to secure our borders, but whether we have 34 million people, 100 million or 300 million, our security will ultimately depend on our ability to get along with our neighbours, not keep them out.